LEVITTOWN / WILLINGBORO PLAZA: LEVITTOWN (WILLINGBORO), NJ
Brian Baxter's Commentary:
Posted January 28, 2006 (user submitted)
Growing up in Willingboro in the 70's the plaza was the center of my universe. There was a short lived toystore and a bookstore with a comicbook section in the back, I believe the I.R.S. shut them down. I didnt spend much time a the south end, where the Pantry Pride was located, but I do remember a record store down there, where I heard Court of the Crimson King for the first time.
I remember Santa's yearly visit to the center gazebo and the cut out wooden soldiers. A perfect day for me would be to go see a matinee at the Fox, go to Pomeroys for some good chocolate and end up at Riccardos Pizza. I moved out of Willingboro around 1978.
It sad to have seen the deterioration of a public area for no
sound economical reason. I understand all things have a lifespan, but I feel the residents of the 'Boro should be ashamed of themselves for letting that wonderful mall fall to pieces. There were several other areas too, like the American Village, that went in the toilet also. the great experiment of the Great Society was a complete and utter failure as witnessed by the now defunct Willingboro Plaza.
Harris Austin's Commentary:
Posted December 3, 2005 (user submitted)
Levittown NJ voted to change it's name BACK to willingboro in the early 1960's..not the late 70's as the writer of the article says.
I moved to Willingboro in the summer of 1971..the Plaza was dying even then. The fountain at the south end of the Plaza near the bowling alley had become pretty much of an open air flea market for drugs. The old people wouldn't shop at the 2 grocery stores that were at that end of the plaza because of it. I do remember that one of the then was a Penn-Fruit & Dale's (a chain long out of business) The other might have been a Pantry Pride.
By the time the police had cleaned up all the drug dealing,the grocery stores had left...one of them was replaced by a Jewel T store that lasted about 5 years. By this time,the plaza was really sliding downhill..several of the smaller stores had closed and moved out due to rising rents and the decay of the place. As time went by,the plaza got dirtier and crummier with more and more of the small shops closing up and leaving. By 1979 most of the small shops in the little alley ways you walked thru to get into the Plaza had closed up and stood empty. At one point,there had been a
tie shop,a sewing repair shop,a pet store,an eye doctor,a sandwich shop, a donut shop and a several others in the alley ways. All gone..
By 1981,the camera store had closed,the bowling alley had closed and about 40% of the stores were empty. Crime (muggings) had gotten out of hand...I twice saw the cops hauling out kids who'd mugged old people in the early 1980's. By the time Sear's left for the new Burlington Center mall in 1982,the only 2 places to eat in the plaza were a small sandwich shop that closed at 1pm and a pizza place.
After Sears pulled out,the downhill slide got worse...within 6 months of Sear's pulling out,I'd say that 65% of the stores were empty. By 1988 about the only things there were a Boscov's that had replaced the Pomoroy's,Woolworths,the pizza place,a drug store and a very few other places like the branch post office.
After the Woolworth's closed,the Boscov's followed within about 18-24 months and that was pretty much the end of the plaza.
Ken Allan's Commentary:
Posted April 8, 2005 (user submitted)
Preface: I was hoping to actually see what was/is left of Willingboro Plaza, and the development that was/is supposed to take it's place Willingboro Town Center. If anyone has the latest scoop, and or photos please send them in!
Quick Suburban History Lesson: Where are the three Levittown's located?? Many people know of the original Levittown on Long Island, but after seeing how great the demand was, the Levitt Development group also built a Levittown in Pennsylvania, and one in New Jersey. Unlike the original Levittown, the ones in NJ and Pa., were built as suburbs of Philadelphia and the other cities near it (Camden and Trenton).
Levittown Plaza (NJ) opened in 1959 to serve the new community and was designed as an open air shopping center with anchor stores Pomeroy's at one end, a large 3 floor Sears in the middle and a large Woolworth's at the other end. Between the anchor stores there was room for about 80 stores in a landscaped plaza that became something of a community showcase and center (since Levittown was a new community it lacked a traditional downtown area).
Levittown Plaza and Levittown prospered through the 60's and then during the 70's things started to go horribly wrong. Crime started to become a real issue in the town, and large numbers of the original families started to leave. Realtors in the area were able to use the then very liberal terms of assumption that came with the FHA and VA mortgages that many of the original families used to finance their homes, and in turn they marketed the houses of Levittown to people looking to flee areas of Philly/Camden/Trenton that were deteriorating quickly. Many of these new residents could barely afford their mortgage payments, let alone trips to shop at Levittown Plaza.
By the late 70's the town government looking to stop the rate of decay, changed the name of the town to Willingboro, and the town made headlines when they tried to pass a law banning the use of "For Sale" signs on properties that were on the market. Eventually things in Willingboro would stabilize and the town has become a popular home to middle income African American families looking for a town where they are not just the token black family on the block.
However the years of decline took it's toll on the Route 130 Business Corridor that runs along the west side of Willingboro.
Levittown Plaza, changed it's name to Willingboro Plaza but by the early 80's it was suffering from a large number of vacancies and a very unkept look. In 1982 Sears moved about 5 miles inland to the new Burlington Center Mall, and the Sears space would never be filled again. In 1986 the very popular, traditional department store, Boscov's (a rare privately held store) took over the Pomeroy's store and optimism abounded. Boscov's was the draw that it is wherever it goes, but the plaza languished. Boscov's even threat ended to close it's doors onto the plaza itself if it was not spruced up.
By the 90's most of Willingboro Plaza looked already abandoned, and when Woolworth's closed it's remaining stores in 1996, Boscov's was not far behind. With Boscov's gone a grand plan was announced to demolish the center and build a new open air strip mall to be called Willingboro Town Center. A giant fence was built around the plaza, and it sat like that for years (I wish I had pictures). The only development that I saw, was the Woolworth's building was taken down and a new Acme Supermarket was built, the Acme was built so it fronted the Levitt Parkway (not route 130), so it was basically a stand alone store.
Any student of "suburban history" could probably earn a degree
studying about Levittown/Willingboro NJ, alone.
Melanie Nazelrod's Commentary:
Posted April 8, 2005 (user submitted June 23, 2004)
Willingboro Plaza was in NJ's Levitt development; it was more of an outdoor shopping center, but it had pretty important anchors (a Woolworth's and I believe a Gimbel's or some other chain, later a Sears and then a Boscov's), a neat structure (with a square shape, inner and outer shops, and a garden in the very center), and it was the first place in Burlington County to resemble a mall until Moorestown opened its still-healthy mall. It was dying when I was a kid (the anchors and a few little shops being all that was left), and now it's been redeveloped into a much-needed community center after lying empty for a few years. There's only a few remnants of the original structure - the very center of the square and the front facade (with a cool design) of one of the anchors.